If Gattinara is the standard bearer for Alto Piemonte, Antoniolo is the standard bearer for Gattinara.
This traditional estate has become a reference for lovers of nebbiolo grown on the sub-Alpine slopes of northern Piemonte around Novarra and Biella.
Antoniolo was founded in 1948 on the site of a 15th century monastery by Mario Antoniolo, at a time when many post-war Italians were leaving for the cities or to seek work abroad. An outsider, he came to the region through meeting his wife, a Gattinara local. Whether through passion for the land or shrewd commercial sense, or both, Mario acquired a number of the top vineyards in Gattinara through the 1950s and 1960s, including the monopoly of Osso San Grato, arguably the best vineyard in the denominazione, as well as the San Francesco and Le Castelle crus.
His daughter, Rosanna, one of the first female sommeliers in Italy, became involved in the business as well and in 1974 took up the suggestion of Italy's most influential wine writer, Luigi Veronelli, to bottle the wines from San Francesco and Osso San Grato separately, instead of blending them into the Gattinara Riserva. At the time single vineyard wines were a huge step forward in Gattinara, and only a decade behind the same developments in Barolo and Barbaresco further south, pioneered by Bepe Colla, Bruno Giacosa and Angelo Gaja. The estate is run today by Rosanna's children, Lorella and Alberto. Alberto handles the winemaking, while Lorella is the spokeperson for the estate, and was, for a decade, the chair of the Consorzio of Gattinara.
Antoniolo make a Riserva Gattinara as well as single vineyard Riservas from Osso San Grato, San Francesco and Le Caselle, while the fruit from the Borelle and Valferana vineyards goes into their superb Coste della Sesia 'Juvenia'. The Riservas spend three years in cask and one year in bottle before release. All of the red wines are 100% nebbiolo, known locally as spanna, and the vine age is 50 years on average across 14 hectares with many vines from Mario's original plantings still producing.Vines are planted at a high density of 3,000 vines per hectare and replanting is done with great care and consideration.
The vineyards are broadly characterised by high acid glacial soils with volcanic elements, the latter particularly notable in Osso San Grato, which restricts yields dramatially, meaning lower yields here than in the Langhe. Vineyard management is low intervention, with absolutely no herbicides, pesticides or fertilizer in use with cover crops left between the rows. The estate is practicing, but uncertified, organic. Fermentation happens spontaneously in concrete with around 20 days of maceration, and the Gattinara wines then spend three years in Slavonian botti grande and one year in bottle before release. The wines see sulphur only before bottling for stability.